Tuesday, September 26, 2006


It's not often that one experiences a minor epiphany while reading the New York Times magazine on a late Sunday afternoon, but it happened. It was a story about an oversize poor black child who was raised by wolves in Memphis (ie, his parents were useless or nonexistent). Due to the work of some good Samaritans this gigantic boy was admitted to a small private Christian high school. He was woefully behind, having attended scores of schools. He'd been flunked a couple of times and had been passed the rest of the time so that he would go away and become someone else's problem. He also lacked social skills and rarely spoke; up to that point life had simply been about survival.

After the first year at this high school he narrowly escaped flunking and was allowed to join the football team. Not because he could play, but because he was big and it was a largely white school and if nothing else he would scare the shit out of the other teams.

I didn't finish the story but apparently this kid is now some famous college player and all of the pro teams want him and there will be a bidding war or some such thing. That's why they wrote the article.

When this kid enrolled in the Christian high school he was homeless -- living on people's floors and wearing the same pair of shorts every day. He couldn't afford to eat at the cafeteria. But somehow he made it to school. He showed up.

At some point a wealthy white born-again couple whose daughter was a classmate saw him walking out in the cold in those shorts and asked where he was going. He said he was on his way to basketball practice. After more questions they learnt that he was going not because he was on the team but because the gym was heated. Their hearts went out to him. They took him in. Soon they began to treat him like a member of the family.

(I remember wishing for a similar rescue many, many, many times during my formative years. Not by Christians, though. More like Starsky and Hutch or Colonel Hogan.... which is quite sick when you think about it).

The journalist who wrote the story had amazing access -- one wonders how he gained his subjects' trust -- and there is a certain, well, exploitative feel to to the piece. Which of course induces the reader to devour it.

He managed to get incredible quotes. At one point he wanted to know why this rich couple -- who owned 60 fast food restaurants -- was so generous with their wealth.

The wife's answer actually made me stop reading and start thinking.

And I'm not even Christian.

She said:

"God gives people money to see how [they're] going to handle it."

And all this time I thought it was so you could withhold it from your offspring and give it all to your already-wealthy second wife.

Really, though, just about any noun could be substituted for "money" and it would still make sense:

"God gives people stiff bodies to see how they're going to handle it."

"God gives people felonies to see how they're going to handle it."

"God gives people talent to see how they're going to handle it."

"God gives people cod liver oil to see how they're going to handle it."

And so on.

The full article is here.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:12 PM

    That sounds like the Obama rags to richs story.
    Even Oprah has said she wants
    'Bama for president, and at first I wanted to puke with all of this Obama for president press, but then I thought, could he be any worse than what we have now?